When it happened I was shocked. Everybody was. There are few things more shocking, I know, we didn’t always get along, and I was not always the best big brother, or oldest son for that matter, but when little brother came to father and asked for his share of the family farm… my jaw dropped. It was more than just stuff, it wasn’t just livelihood, it was father’s life.
That sort of thing just didn’t happen. This wasn’t some reverse mortgage company trying to twist dad’s arm into signing over the deed – this was my brother, his own son. The statement that sort of thing made – “dad, you are better to me dead than alive -” it’s crushing.
The only thing for Dad to do, would be to raise his fists and send brother off empty handed. That is what he should have done from the start. That is what any self respecting first century dad would have done. But not father, I was still standing there with my jaw in the dirt when I heard it… there was a crackle in his voice, a tear in his eye – I knew he wanted to look strong, but his lips trembled as he spoke, “very well son.”
At that point I should have stood up and said something, but I couldn’t… well I didn’t gather the words. Something terribly wrong had happened, and as THE guy who knew both father and brother, I should have stepped up and tried to bring things back together. I did nothing. I disappeared in disbelief – for whatever reason, I couldn’t even try.
At least brother could take what was his and leave quietly, father was already destroyed by it… and if it became public, i don’t know how he could make it. Of course things are not that easy, and of course brother put his share of the inheritance up for sale the next day. When he was packing his bags, we thought he was headed out of town, but instead he took father’s life and sold it at the market – he sold it to neighbors and enemies alike. Not only had he shamed father, by his demand, he made it public on his way out of town.
Even so, after he left, every morning father would walk to the end of the dry, dusty road – he never told me what he was doing, but the way he came back disappointed every morning, it sure seemed like he was looking, waiting, even hoping that brother would come home.
Meanwhile, brother was off in a foreign land – that underscored the gravity of what he had done. He had walked away from our family, from our way of life, and from our heritage – he blew the inheritance on some sort of luxury, my guess is that he threw it all at the brothels. After he had squandered the whole lot, there was a famine and there he was in a foreign place, caring for pigs, animals that our people would never even touch.
They way I heard it, he was picking through the pig food when he decided to come home. Whether he thought he could earn a place in the family again or just wanted to work for a guy that would take care of him… I don’t know.
Even when he left he knew that Father was a good man, but neither he nor I had any clue what would happen on his return.
It was just so frustrating for me — he was on his way back from the brothels of a foreign land and I was on my way back from working in father’s fields. I heard a party, one of the servants told me that my brother had returned — that Father had placed a fine robe on his back, had put a ring on his finger and welcomed him home as a son. After all that he had done, father was willing to forgive – all those early mornings looking down the road, hoping, waiting for his return, finally father had seen his lost son turn to come home. As soon as he saw him, they tell me, he ran – not something a respectable man would do – he ran to welcome his son home. Forgiveness meant restoration, or reconciliation. Even though my brother broke our family, father was willing to welcome him home, it was out of love, a costly love that my brother – who was dead, came back to life among us. It didn’t matter to Father, where he had been, how long he had been gone or what he had done – what was important is that he turned back, he turned in the direction of home and at that moment father ran to meet him.
But back to me – I was frustrated. It was hard to believe that there was a party going on for him. I had been the one working in the field all day. I simply would not be a part of such a disgraceful party, I would not go in.
What I didn’t get at the time is that I put father through more disgrace by my stubbornness and he had to display yet even more costly love, to leave his invited guests to run outside to me and plead with his sulking son, that I would join him in his joy.
Sometimes we get things backwards. I thought having a goat was more a reason to celebrate than having my brother back. I thought the party was for my brother, but it was really for the rejoicing of my father. It wasn’t as though I hated either of them, I was just too wound up in myself to realize that it was beautiful that my brother was home, that he was my brother again. More than that I was too wound up in myself to see that my father was loving me with the same costly love that had brought my brother back to us, back to life. That is where my story ends. Jesus, I guess wants us to think about what will happen next. Will I join the party or will I sulk outside? Will I recognize the love of my father, or will I reject the father who came running for me and go back out to my field? Perhaps those are questions for us all to ask, perhaps even daily – God is doing a new thing in the world, he is bringing the dead to life and finding that which was lost. The celebration is his, and it is for you, for me, and for all who were far off.
May all people be brought together by the Father of costly love, and may he grant us hearts that rejoice together in his reconciling, forgiving, and life giving love. Amen.